This is a multi-watcher, and I can only imagine the book, but I am sure that is also as layered.
Plot: circa WWI California. It comes from the book by John Steinbeck that was written 3 years earlier in 1952. It is essentially a story about family. Father and son. Almost the typical rebel in conflict with his non-loving father. But the story is so much more than that.
James Dean seems perfect in the role. He is so troubled through it all, and you can see his hurt, and you can even see what years of not feeling loved or appreciated will do to a person. I know most people scoff at the idea, but that lack of feeling coming from someone you admire can be so damaging to a person. A story like this proves it. Dean plays that so well. He is not just brooding, he is suffering. He's like a child through most of it, searching, searching desperately for some sign of affection. I mean, just watch his face when his father gives him even the slightest of praise. Most of Dean's acting is in his face. He is very expressive.
Harris is lovely and Hassey is wonderful. Burl Ives is in this one too - although in a small role. I really like his presence on the screen. There is a bit where the citizens of the town go a little crazy and start a big fight. Ives' character walks right into the middle of it and as soon as they see he is there, everyone just stops. That is probably written in the script, but it takes a certain kind of actor to make that believable.
Elia Kazan directed, and as most know, he was definately of the method acting style, so naturally everything seems very real. Hearing people talk about him and his treatment of actors in this film makes me never want to work on a drama like this with someone like him. I say that only because of the off-screen relationship between Dean and Hassey. Apparently, they were not so different from their characters, and both just did not get one another. Kazan fueled the flames in order to get the performance as real as possible. A good thing, but again, I am glad I was not in thier shoes for a work like this. I don't have anything against method acting or directing, but I do believe in the need for a strong working relationship between people - and in a case like this, I think being that method is a cruel way of trying to get what you want. On one hand, this is just him taking advantage of a situation that was not of his making or control, but on the other, it seems a little like the idea of "war profiteering"
Everything is good in this picture, but I can't really think about it because I am so wrapped up in the story. First of all, I got so mad, and now I am so confused about the idea of "war profiteering" Especially now that I am looking at "All My Sons" I have to wonder where the line is. Yes, people are going to make money during wars. People have to work to create everything needed to "supply" a war - food, machinery, etc. On one hand, they deserve to be paid for the work they have done. I mean, should a factory worker feel guilty because he pulls a 9-5 making war materials and people are dying because of his work? Really think about this a bit? Most people would feel bad. I know a part of me would. And where is that line between profiteering and just earning a living? Where do you find that?
Moving on (sorry, tangent there. Really, there is not a single person I really like here. Abra is as close to it as I come, but she too seems to suffer from that irritating and sometimes harmful naivety. I think maybe that is what bothered me most about these people - especially the brother, Aron. I don't think the movie did him justice (of course, I don't know if the book is any better). They just make him into such a sheltered wimp. A paranoid, sheltered, stupid wimp. There really isn't a whole lot of explanation why he turns on Cal like he does. Sure, he is embittered about the war, and sure, after a while he is suspicious of Abra and Cal, but it seems to come out of nowhere. I guess he is the product of his father's influence in a sheltered town living a sheltered life. I also don't like how you don't have any idea what happens to him. Does it matter? Maybe not, but I really would like to know anyways. The father just pisses me off, and Cal jumps from one side to the other with sympathy and anger. He needs to grow up, but I guess he can't until he can get the affection he has sought for all his childhood.
Like I said, this story has layers, and I'm only knicking at the surface after a single watching. So, I hope you will forgive my lack of in-depth understanding.
Highly suggest watching this movie (and reading the book, for it is on my list now)
4 out of 5 stars